Tenzin Gyatso is recognized as the “tulku” or reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, and is in a lineage going back to at least 1546. My interest in this man of wisdom was renewed after I spent time with someone who has met him, and written extensively about that life-changing encounter.( Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus.)
BBC 4 recently aired an interview with the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, on the occasion of his 80th birthday. The interviewer, Emily Maitlis, asked why he may be the last Dalai Lama. His response:
“Now we are in the 21st century. So this Lama institution, frankly speaking it developed during the feudal system. So society changed, has to change, so some of the institutions, some of them they influence the existing societies, now they are out of date. So therefore as early as 1969, I publicly, officially, I announced that (whether) the very institution of the Dalai Lama should continue or not (is) up to the Tibetan people. If majority of Tibetan people, at the time of my death, feel that this centuries old institution not much relevant, then it automatically cease.”
I appreciate the Dalai Lama’s awareness of the need for institutional change. Like many church people I know, he seems to prefer it happen after he dies!
The denomination I serve, the United Church of Canada, formed in 1925, when Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists joined together. Congregations of the Evangelical United Brethren Church joined in 1968. We are relatively young, especially when compared to the institution of the Dalai Lama.
As I write this, commissioners from across Canada, lay people and clergy, are meeting in Cornerbrook, Newfoundland, for the 42nd General Council. This is our highest “court” or decision making body. Those attending read thousands of pages of reports, work together in small groups to consider recommendations, and vote on matters of policy and governance. They also worship together, renew old acquaintances, and make new friends. I have never attended but hear it is a tiring, inspiring, challenging, and sometimes overwhelming experience. I have friends there right now, including a few who let their names stand for election for the office of moderator, the elected spokesperson for our denomination.
The commissioners have done important work. They decided our church will divest from investments in the 200 largest fossil fuel companies. They passed a motion calling for a government inquiry into missing, murdered indigenous women and girls. They engaged in discussion about changes to the qualifications required of those offering themselves for ordained ministry. (Here is a link to a site that offers news updates from GC42 General Council 42 News )
The commissioners also have before them documents of the Comprehensive Review Task Force, containing recommendations that if enacted, would result in sweeping changes to the structure of the United Church. This may be the hardest part of their work. For years people have pointed to shrinking membership, closure of congregations, difficulty filling leadership roles at all levels of the church, and reduced financial resources, as reasons why we must be bold, and wise in making significant changes.
My hope, and prayer is we won’t wait until our current leaders die.